Friday, November 17, 2017

Ruth: Remembering JFK and what might have been


Far-right-hand aisle, toward the rear of the classroom. Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. It was about 2 p.m. I was a 14-year-old eighth-grader at St. Sebastian's in Akron, Ohio, when the loudspeaker crackled with the emotional voice of a normally stern principal, Sister Mary Peter. Over the next few moments, all of us sitting at our desks that day grew up just a little bit quicker.

President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. Sister Mary Peter offered a short prayer, and we were dismissed. It was a long walk home. As I entered the house, there was my mother, a rock-ribbed straight-ticket-voting Republican sitting before the television — sobbing.

Depending on your age, there are times when you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing on momentous occasions. Pearl Harbor. VE/VJ days. The death of Franklin Roosevelt. The first manned moon landing. Bobby at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis. Sept. 11, 2001.

These are the touchstones of our lives. This is American history. Our history.

Time and scholarship have not always been kind to the memory of JFK's 1,000 Days. His legislative accomplishments were at best modest. And then there are the numerous accounts of a reckless philanderer. All too true. All too sad.

But 50 years ago for an admittedly naive teenage boy, John Kennedy represented an ideal of a brighter limitless future, of a compassionate America, of a country willing to dream, to explore the heavens, to be a better people. And so the question lingers as steadily as Arlington's eternal flame — what might have been?

The people of this city, it would seem, felt that way, too. If you watch JFK in Tampa: The 50th Anniversary, a poignant documentary written and produced by Lynn Marvin Dingfelder that aired recently on WUSF, you see a young outwardly robust president in one of his last public appearances before heading wheels up — like a presidential Icarus — into the fire of Dallas.

Here in Tampa, Kennedy found a brief respite from his political woes. The city was enthralled with the first visit of a sitting president. Here we still traverse the same byways, the same landmarks that Kennedy looked upon before his murder just four days later. His memory still lingers, the ghost of Kennedy Boulevard.

The older we who remember the tragedy of Camelot get, the more awkwardly conflicted we are to find the rightful place for JFK in our memories. After all, we know the history. We know about Marilyn. We know about the assassination of South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem, 20 days before Kennedy's death. We know that JFK was late to the civil rights table.

But we also know that to a 14-year-old, Kennedy represented the power of charisma, the sense of noblesse oblige with which he carried himself. We know about the Peace Corps. We forever remember John-John saluting his father's casket.

I know Kennedy was a terribly flawed man. I wish he had been a better president. I know this is wishful thinking, but I want to believe that had he lived he would have become better at both jobs.

Maybe his influence still over my generation comes down to this. In preparing this column I took another look at the video of venerable CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite choking up on air as he struggled to announce JFK's death.

Much to my surprise, I felt a chill once again come over me. And for a moment I was 14 again, wondering what might have been.


Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "I’m pleading to my brothers. You ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

The Rays definitely like Ybor City, and Ybor City seems to like the Rays. So what could possibly come between this match made in baseball stadium heaven? Hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of millions of dollars. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Times...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

St. Petersburg City Council members are poised to raise the minimum wage for contractors who do business with the city, a well-intended but misguided ordinance that should be reconsidered. The hourly minimum wage undoubtedly needs to rise — for every...
Published: 11/16/17

Editorial: Make workplaces welcoming, not just free of harassment

A federal trial began last week in the sex discrimination case that a former firefighter lodged against the city of Tampa. Tanja Vidovic describes a locker-room culture at Tampa Fire Rescue that created a two-tier system — one for men, another for wo...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Barely a week after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman promised to unite the city following a bitter and divisive campaign, his administration has fired an employee who dared to criticize him. It seems Kriseman’s own mantra of "moving St. Pete forwar...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

The University of South Florida recently surpassed its $1 billion fundraising goal, continuing a current trend of exceeding expectations. At 61 years old — barely middle age among higher education institutions — USF has grown up quickly. It now boast...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

American military members hurt in service to their country should not have to wait a lifetime for the benefits they deserve. But that’s a reality of the disability process at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which hasn’t made payi...
Published: 11/14/17

Editorial: Deputies’ rescue reflects best in law enforcement

The bravery two Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies showed a week ago is a credit to them and reflects the professionalism of the office.Deputies Benjamin Thompson and Trent Migues responded at dusk Nov. 11 after 82-year-old Leona Evans of Webster...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Another voice: An untrustworthy deal with Russia

President Donald Trump’s latest defense of Russian leader Vladimir Putin included — along with a bow to his denials of meddling in the U.S. election — an appeal to pragmatism. "Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,"...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/14/17